By Erica C. Barnett
Members of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s governing board, including Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Council homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis, expressed concerns over the scale and scope of the agency’s draft Five-Year Plan to address homelessness, which calls for 18,000 new shelter beds and parking spots for people living in their vehicles—and an annual price tag in the billions. Currently, the city of Seattle and King County are the authority’s only funders.
We dug into the details of the draft plan on Tuesday.
Harrell, who declined to fund any of the KCRHA’s requests for new programs in last year’s city budget, said he didn’t “see a route to achieve” the full five-year plan, which includes $8.4 billion in capital costs and between $1.7 and $3.4 billion in annual operations and maintenance costs. “That’s almost another city [budget],” he said. Instead, Harrell said, the authority should figure out what it can do with incremental increases of 5 or 10 percent a year and come back with a plan that focuses on responding to the immediate need for emergency shelter. “Maybe it’s there and maybe I’m just not seeing it, but I just want a little more meat there.”
In response to concerns from elected officials, KCRHA CEO Marc Dones the reason the plan zeroes out tiny houses is that “the modeling calls for fewer modular shelters than we currently have—it’s just math.”
Lewis echoed Harrell’s comments, saying he’d like to see a “price tag that is more within existing norms that can be nimble, responsive, and bring the kind of response we’re hearing from the public that they want to see … like hotel/motel acquisition, tiny homes, and pallet shelters that can be scaled with urgency and scaled more achievably within existing resources to mitigate those most significant encampments that are rightly causing significant community consternation.”
While the city declined to fund the KCRHA’s budget requests last year, they did pay for new emergency shelters and tiny houses, a type of shelter Dones has singled out for criticism for years. The agency’s five-year plan includes additional funding for every existing shelter type except tiny house villages, which are featured in a chart showing “$0” across the board.
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In response to questions from Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who noted that the five-year plan actually shows a 55-bed reduction in tiny house village spots, Dones said the reason the plan zeroes out tiny houses is that “the modeling calls for fewer modular shelters than we currently have—it’s just math.” As we reported last week, the KCRHA determined how much of each type of shelter the region needs based largely on interviews with 180 people experiencing homelessness about their needs; they did not ask any questions about specific shelter types. Dones said even though the plan shows an overall reduction in tiny houses, “we would not look to pull funding out of the existing THV stock or what has been funded in order to make the numbers and the math” match up with actual shelters on the ground.
The governing board isn’t scheduled to meet again until April, when they’re supposed to vote to approve the five-year plan. King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci and Herbold both questioned this timeline, saying they’d like an opportunity to review the final version and discuss it again publicly before voting to approve it. The authority is up against an 18-month deadline to approve the plan, which was originally supposed to be out last fall. The board— whose job is to sign off on the plan as approved by a separate implementation board, not to amend it—agreed to tentatively add one additional meeting in May to take a final vote on the plan.